There is no shame in making mistakes, only in failing to correct them. Mayor Kawakami, Dr. Berreman, the way we have reopened is a mistake. We can do it right.
Opening Kaua‘i without a properly timed mandatory quarantine, without a second test, and without extensive surveillance testing in place, is a serious mistake.
Kaua‘i has 5% of the state’s population and on October 14th a miniscule .001% of the cases in Hawai‘i.
And yet in the last three weeks you’ve accepted more than 10% of the state’s travelers and opened with the same protocol as O‘ahu which has 69% of the state’s population and 89% of the known cases. This was a huge oversight.
Put another way, on October 14th, O‘ahu had more than a thousand times the cases on Kaua‘i. Yet you allowed others to dictate that you open in the same manner.
You invited travelers from high covid areas into your medically fragile 70,000 person community with the lowest covid case count in the US, and 99.9% of the world.
An international story will soon be written as to how the neighbor island leaders allowed their islands to be opened like O‘ahu, by interests mainly on O‘ahu, and in doing so fully squandered their isolated location and covid free gift. Kaua‘i will be the starkest example.
With some imagination and targeted marketing you can bring thousands of high value longer term guests to the island, as the Cayman Islands and others are doing. I’ve yet to see a single article heralding Kaua‘i’s incredibly unique virtually covid free status. Instead the most motivated on the mainland remain unaware of us as they ponder how to move to New Zealand.
You have evidence from Alaska, Tahiti, the Bahamas, and other destinations that make it clear a single preflight test will let too much covid through and eventually result in community spread.
From Alaska’s extensive data collection we know that 19% of their infected Pacific Islanders and Hawai‘ians end up in the hospital – more than twice any other group. We also know that at least 3 out of 1,000 travelers are infected and missed with a single preflight test. I suspect a close reading of the data will soon show it to be even higher.
Mayor Kawakami, Dr. Berreman, please protect your citizens and correct this error – before it is too late. I’m not sure you have even a week to change course.
Ignore, while you still can, the shortsighted state narrative that travelers are not the problem, and that community spread is. That may be partly and depressingly true on O‘ahu, but here on Kaua‘i every traveler is a new patient zero and a potential seed for community spread.
Let O‘ahu have had its own opening protocol – and invite thousands of travelers in. There is an argument that O‘ahu’s percent of active cases and community spread matches or exceeds the levels in the communities most travelers come from. But that argument holds zero water on Kaua‘i, Maui, and to a lesser degree on the Big Island.
However reluctantly, you ultimately chose to go along with our state leadership’s disingenuous argument that the choice was to open or not open – which is simply not true. Your many local doctors who focused on the data, the math, and the science were labeled by state leadership as elitists, fearmongers, and stupid. Yet they, and the lessons from others, gave you a clear path to opening far more safely – by cutting the 14 day quarantine in half and requiring a second test to exit it.
Don’t wait for your tier system, the speed and trajectory of new cases is alarming enough. It is not too late.
Mayor Harry Kim has acknowledged that he was not forced into reopening, and to his credit twice threatened to opt out. He brought the governor back to the table, and then in a moment of weakness, which he now laments, accepted a nonsensical second test upon arrival. For many travelers it was hours after they took their first test – which is absurd. Last week, Mayor Kim stated “the only thing I regret, I should have pushed harder.”
It was incompetent state leadership that allowed the virus to explode in June on O‘ahu, disproportionately harming our pacific islander communities. In August, myself and others clearly warned that community spread was setting in on the Big Island (https://tinyurl.com/covidwarning).
That same leadership is now saying the Big Island’s same day of arrival second test was their promised “10% surveillance testing.” You know this is misleading and doesn’t pass the straight face test. We know it usually takes at least 5-7 days for viral loads to become detectable.
Your own voluntary “$150 visitor testing,” with 2% participation (only 50-60 visitors tested last week) is, on balance, a failure. Let’s admit it, and then fix it.
Mayor Kawakami, Dr. Berreman, you can more safely open this island – wisely and with some creativity so you can keep it open. No half steps. No more pleading and polite requests. Lead us. We’ll support you. Stop following those who are not putting your citizen’s interests first.
This is surely the most important moment in your career. Please raise your game for all of us.
Steve O’Neal lives on the north shore of Kaua‘i with his three young children and has worked for the UN as a disaster response assessment lead.